Life & Style

Why the coastal belt of Kerala capital is in love with football

Beach football at Adimalathura

Beach football at Adimalathura   | Photo Credit: S Gopakumar

The 75-odd km stretch of Thiruvananthapuram’s coastal belt scores high when it comes to its passion for football. MetroPlus casts the net wide to find out what binds the beach and the beautiful game

As the crimson sun prepares to set in the deep-blue yonder, Simon Jose and friends have a ball with a quick session of rondo at the Valiyathura beach to warm up. Soon, they regroup into two teams, while the goalkeepers set up ‘posts’ out of makeshift wooden poles along the sands still warm from the day’s heat.

For youngsters from the coastal belt of the district that stretches about 74 km from Pozhiyoor near Kanyakumari to Anjuthengu close to Kollam, the beautiful game is “in their blood.” At a time when the city loses its natural playgrounds to rapid urbanisation and resorts to artificial turfs, sun-kissed beaches have been serving football fans from the coastal community well. With “prestigious” cups and trophies up for grabs throughout the year sustaining the spirit among a number of coastal football clubs, soccer is “oxygen” to many from here.

“Earlier, football was seen as a poor man’s sport. But now, there’s more money coming in, bringing bigger opportunities for players from the coastal belt as well. It’s thanks in no small measure to the growing popularity of Indian Super League (ISL), which has ramped up the glam quotient of the game,” says Ebin Rose, coach of Kovalam FC and former Santosh Trophy winner from Vizhinjam. Launched in 1999, Kovalam FC is the only club from the district currently playing in the Kerala Premier League, with their home turf at the University Stadium.

Ebin Rose training Kovalam FC players

Ebin Rose training Kovalam FC players   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The fishing hamlet of Pozhiyoor in South Kollemcode, some 35 km from the city, is also known as ‘Santosh Trophy Village’ for the sheer number of players from here who have made it to the prestigious tournament. “We always keep the ground open. Any one is free to come and have a game at any time of the day,” says John Bosco, coach of St Mathews Recreation Club (SMRC), which trains about 200 players.

Every FIFA World Cup since 2002, Pozhiyoor has been hosting its own ‘Model World Cup’, an occasion when the young players boot up and don the jerseys of their allotted countries in a bid to lift the “biggest trophy of all.” But Pozhiyoor’s World Cup has a surprise wild card entry as well… India. “It’s our dream that India plays in the ultimate tournament and we realise that this way,” adds John with a chuckle.

St Barthalomeo Football Academy (SBFA) at Poovar recently launched its own YouTube channel that chronicles the club’s achievements and even “live-streams” their matches. As part of the channel’s promotion, the club organised a “best goal” and “best comment” contest on its Facebook page wherein club jerseys were given away as prizes. The club celebrated National Girl Child Day on January 24 with a short tournament for women.

Vettucaud has gifted us some players who made the grade on the big stages, such as former Indian striker Thomas Sebastian, former Santosh Trophy captain Sylvester Ignatius and Jobby Justin who currently features in the ISL. Celin John, coach of St Mary’s Sports Club, Vettucaud, one of the oldest sports clubs in the city, points out the impact of its academy, Mary’s India Soccer Academy, in helping hone young talents from coastal areas. “Our chief aim is to build a culture of football and donate good players to the national team,” he says.

Beach football at Valiya Veli

Beach football at Valiya Veli   | Photo Credit: Tinson Lopez

Most of the coastal clubs enjoy strong support from the church for the cause of the beautiful game. For one thing, it weans the youth away from “latching on to damaging habits and getting themselves involved in anti-social activities or even gadget addiction.” Apart from the parishes bankrolling, Celin speaks about “local football patrons” working in West Asia chipping in with sponsorship.

Patrick Pereira of Coastal Sports Club, Valiyathura, underlines the number of tournaments and matches organised in the coastal belt in a given year. “Many kids grow up playing a lot of tournaments, keeping the fun and enthusiasm going. So there’s no dearth of match experience during formative years for their development,” says the former Santosh Trophy selector. Several clubs are now gearing up for the annual Don Bosco Football tourney in the short but lively ‘3s football’ format, where in a team fields just three players, scheduled for next month.

Puthiyathura-based Joy Sports and Arts Club Secy (JSAC), formed in 1967, is already abuzz as its much-awaited JSAC tournament is around the corner. “This tourney is organised in the World Cup format and is held once in four years,” says Baby John, the club’s secretary. Francis Jefferson of Jaihind Football Club, Puthenthope, whose annual Jaihind trophy sees some fiery contests, agrees about how regular fixtures keep the momentum going.

Young members of Mary Matha Sports and Arts Club of Pallam

Young members of Mary Matha Sports and Arts Club of Pallam   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With greater exposure, coaches too endeavour to take the game to the next level, with many incorporating modern training methods. Like Pallam Suresh of Mary Matha Sports and Arts Club (MMSAC), Pallam, who picks up useful coaching tips from YouTube videos. At 6 am every day, whether cold or windy, his players show up for practice. “We don’t have a designated ground and I train my kids on the Pallam beach. Many of our players have been selected in better schools and universities on the sports quota,” says Suresh. Four young footballers from MMSAC now play in the Chennaiyin FC junior team in the I-league. “We get good support from the people here. It’s a matter of pride for many parents too,” he adds.

Church-funded Little Flower Football Academy (LiFFA) was set up at Manvila in 2015 with the goal of bringing talented players from fishing community and backward families to the fore. “Currently, 50 kids, all from various coastal hamlets of the district train under Under 14 and Under 18 categories here now,” says Cleofas Alex, LiFFA head coach and former Tamil Nadu team trainer.

Beach football at Valiya Veli

Beach football at Valiya Veli   | Photo Credit: Tinson Lopez

Some of the players who have made the cut too attribute their success story to the “fighting spirit” naturally instilled in them from playing barefoot under challenging conditions. “There’s a lot of difference between playing on the beach and a grass turf. You need a lot more stamina when you run on the sand and this automatically conditions you physically. You can then learn other techniques of the game from a good coach,” says 18-year-old Prathap Arose from Puthiyathura, who plays as a striker. Prathap has just signed for FC Thrissur for the club’s I-League U-18 squad.

Twenty-three-year-old Melvino Fernandes from Valiya Veli, who plays for AGS, says another “asset” of his sports life on the beaches are the friendships. “Despite the rivalry, ultimately there’s a sense of togetherness and camaraderie, especially when our friends and relative come and watch the game. After all, football is a common love for us,” says Melvino.

So let’s football.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 12:33:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/why-the-coastal-belt-of-kerala-capital-is-in-love-with-football/article30701461.ece

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